Russian-Belarusian war games start, neighbours worried
PR dla Zagranicy
Russian and Belarusian war games started near the Polish border on Thursday, with NATO watching carefully and neighbouring countries worried the exercises could be a precursor to military action against them.
Photo: ArmyAmber/pixabay.com/CC0 Creative Commons
The Zapad 2017 drills are scheduled to run until September 20 in Belarus as well as on the Baltic Sea, in western Russia, and in Russia’s Kaliningrad region, close to the Polish border and those of the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Belarus has said the manoeuvres will be strictly defensive and "do not pose a threat to the European community, in particular to neighboring states."
But that has not reassured countries in the region worried that Russia poses a threat.
NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg earlier this month called on Russia to “be fully transparent.”
“We have seen before that Russia has used big military exercises as a disguise or a precursor for aggressive military actions against their neighbours,” Stoltenberg said.
“That happened in Georgia in 2008 when they invaded Georgia, and it happened in Crimea in 2014 when they illegally annexed Crimea,” he told the BBC.
Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko has warned -- while speaking in the country's parliament -- that the drills show that Russia is "preparing for an offensive war of continental proportions” and planning "a new assault group ... to strike Ukrainian territory."
Poland's Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz has said that, contrary to claims by Moscow, the Russian and Belarusian war games pose a “real danger” and that "nearly 100,000 soldiers have been mobilised for these exercises.”
The Russian defence ministry has said that about 7,200 Belarusian soldiers, some 5,500 Russian troops, up to 70 planes, 250 tanks, 10 battleships and various artillery systems will be involved in the exercises. Polish observers have said there might be many more.